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Nairobi, KenyaThe might of the World 800m record holder, David Rudisha, fittingly crowned the final Kenyan Trials for London 2012 in Nairobi as three reigning Olympic champions survived furious onslaughts to earn Olympic selection on Saturday (23).
In front of an adoring public of about 15,000 in Nairobi’s National Stadium, Rudisha’s powerful strides opened up on the homestretch to stop the clock at an astonishing high altitude record of 1:42.12 to seal his place in his first Olympic Games after a tendon injury buried his hopes four years ago.
The breathtaking performance on the last event of programme appropriately wrapped up an enthralling day of track action as the final pieces of the Kenyan London 2012 jigsaw fell into place.
Nancy Jebet Langat, the women 1500m titleholder from Beijing, will not defend her title after a knee injury ruled her out of the start. However, fellow Olympic gold winners, Pamela Jelimo, Asbel Kiprop and Brimin Kipruto as well as Athens 2004 champion Ezekiel Kemboi booked their places for the London showpiece in contrasting fashion.
World 5000m and 10,000m champion, Vivian Cheruiyot, successfully kept her two-pronged London assault on track by winning the 5000m Trial having taken the 10,000m race a week earlier.
Isaiah Kiplangat Koech, blessed the Nyayo tartan with a new 5000m soil record of 13:09.80 in the other signature performance of the meet to lead a crop of upcoming runners who upset the established order during the selection meet.
'King David’ reigns
Organisers slotted in the men's 800m Trial as the last race of the programme with the main act David Rudisha sending supporters into orbit with another devastating display of front running masterly that will surely send shockwaves across the world.
The anticipation was palpable since the World champion and record holder had laid down the gauntlet when he cruised to a 1:44.0 victory during Thursday’s heats and from the gun Rudisha had an unobstructed view as he pounded the track to smash his own 1:42.84 record at altitude when winning his second African title in 2010 in the same stadium.
Fans led by Kenya’s vice-president, Kalonzo Musyoka, rose to acclaim the runner known as 'King David’ in his homeland as he took his lap of honour, complete in Masai Moran traditional regalia, amid wild cheers.
"I’m very happy since Kenyans love sport and they love athletics and they give us support. Even today, they cheered as the start list was being announced and that is why I always want to deliver something for them," said Rudisha.
"If I wanted to run a slow race and win nice and comfortable, I would have done that but for those who are not able to come and watch us run in Europe, I try to do my best to show them how we perform there live. It’s such an honour," the world season leader - 1:41.74 achieved in New York - explained.
"I’m feeling in better shape than in 2010 and my Olympics dream has come true and what remains is to keep the shape since I want this gold so much because it is the only medal missing from my table," he added ominously to his rivals.
Behind him the 'other’ race saw Commonwealth Youth winner, Timothy Kitum beat double Africa junior silver medallist, Anthony Chemut in a flying finish that returned 1:43.94 against 1:43.96 to earn the youngsters the remaining Olympic slots.
Rudisha was thereafter, named in the men 4x400m relay team as expected, giving him the chance to double and emulate his father, Daniel Rudisha.
"I’m happy they have announced it today. 4x400m will come after my event and I hope we will work as a team to perform well in the event my father ran in 1968," he added alluding to his elder’s silver success at the Mexico Olympics.
Cheruiyot at the double
Spurred by the scorching desire to emulate Ethiopian rival and double Beijing champion, Tirunesh Dibaba, Daegu 5000m and 10,000m winner, Vivian Cheruiyot, declared the best was yet to come from her as she outclassed a rich field in the 12 and a half-lap race in 16:08.08.
"I’m happy because this time, we are going to race with Dibaba. It’s been a long time since I raced Dibaba. I know you will see the best in the big race," said Cheruiyot.
Once again, she was not pushed to her limits as she managed to detach from the challengers at the bell as Daegu silver medallist, Sally Kipyego, who was third in the 10,000m Trial followed her across the line in 16:09.29, beating the resurgent Beijing 1500m finalist, Viola Kibiwott (16:09.45) to complete the London line-up.
With World Cross junior champion, Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor (DNF) setting a blistering pace, Isiah Kiplangat Koech, edged a thrilling three-way sprint for the finish in 13:09.80, the fastest ever ran on Kenyan soil.
Beijing bronze winner and African champion Edwin Soi ensured a second successive Olympics appearance when he led the challengers home in 13:10.86 after coming from behind to edge out Daegu sixth finisher, Thomas Longosiwa (13:11.11).
"This time, I want to finish higher than Beijing. These Trials are tougher than the Olympics itself," Soi quipped.
Kiprop on the knife edge
Only a late lunge in the homestretch saved the title defence of Beijing titleholder, Asbel Kiprop from being the headline failure of the Trials, as Worlds silver medallist Silas Kiplagat won his second successive selection race.
In a tactically absorbing race, the top-three in the world season list, Kiplagat, Kiprop and Nixon Chepseba faced a minefield line-up and their quality prevailed in the end as the Commonwealth champion won in 3:37.60.
"Winning here is good but last year, I won and went to silver and this time, I want to make sure I get my calculations right since just like last year, I was in good shape. I foresee a situation where we can win all the medals for our country and I will work with my teammates for that," the winner said.
Chepseba, who missed outside selection to Daegu, last year, came home in second (3:38.00) and could not hide his delight gushing, "this time, no one can deny me, I have lost to wildcards for so long and my dream has come true."
Kiprop was seventh on the final bend as his bid for a second Olympics gold looked set to collapse only for his lanky legs to propel him to third in 3:38.30, just shading World junior titleholder, Caleb Mwangangi (3:38.80).
"The young runners blocked the inside," said Kiprop, who employed a risky strategy of hanging behind. "It’s a good thing that I did not win the Trials since the pressure that comes with it is too much. I won the Trials for Osaka and Berlin World Championships and returned home without a medal."
"Having the top three runners competing for Kenya is a bonus for the country but my aim remains winning the Olympic gold on the track."
World Indoor champion, Helen Obiri, took the women’s 1500m Trial in 4:06.10 to set her on the path of collecting the Olympics title as Daegu 800m finalist, Eunice Sum (4:07.19) and World Youth champion, Faith Chepng’etich (4:08.53) joined her for the Games.
Chepng’etich will also compete for her nation at the World Juniors in Barcelona before her Olympics bow.
Jelimo on song
Another of the crowds’ darlings, Pamela Jelimo was vociferously cheered when she laid down the hammer in the second lap after they went through 400m in 61sec to charge away to a dominant 1:58.48 victory.
"I’m working on my speed since winning the Olympics will not be easy. Making the team brings so much joy and unlike 2008, I know I have to work harder to win," she told.
A career best performance of 2:00.33 rewarded 2007 World Youth champion, Winnie Chebet with the second London slot as Beijing silver winner, Janeth Jepkosgei (2:00.47) finished third to join the party.
"I had a hamstring injury that saw me not train for two weeks but now, I have another chance to go there and do my best to finish in the podium," said the 2007 Osaka Worlds titleholder who is credited with 14 medals for her nation in her decorated career.
Brimin with confidence
Olympics 3000m Steeplechase gold medallist, Brimin Kipruto, won his second Trial on the trot but the acclaim belonged to double World champion, Ezekiel Kemboi, the Athens champion who re-enacted his famous jig from Daegu to throw the stadium into frenzy.
Kemboi (8:12.82) appeared to motion to Kipruto (8:11.73) to go ahead and claim victory after he pulled level with him with 50m to go as Abel Mutai (8:13.47) claimed a surprise Olympics slot by trailing the pair in third.
"The first part was to qualify in a very tough race and that is finished. Now I can concentrate on doing everything to defend my title," Kipruto expressed.
"Today, I just wanted to make the team and go to London where I will give everyone a good race. Part one of the objective is done now we move to part two in London," the showman who is Kemboi said after completing a repertoire of post race antics that included more jigs and a lap of honour.
Commonwealth champion and twice Worlds bronze winner, Milcah Chemos, did justice to her top billing as the 2012 leader and clinched the win in the women’s 3000m Steeplechase in 9:32.75 ahead of her Delhi bridesmaid, Mercy Njoroge (9:33.32) as African bronze winner, Lydia Rotich (9:40.41) returned third to book her London ticket.
Down and out
Staying true to established tradition, the London 2012 Trials claimed their share of big names that saw Olympics dreams snuffed out in unforgiving fashion.
Olympics bronze medallist and 2007 World champion, Alfred Kirwa (6th, 1:45.19) and Commonwealth Games silver winner Richard Kiplagat (7th, 1:45.79) were the high profile victims of the Rudisha 800m blur.
Olympics silver medallist, Eliud Kipchoge’s history making third successive appearance at the Games dissipated when he was forced to seventh (13:10.86) in the men's 5000m having missed selection in the 10,000m selection event at the Prefontaine Classic.
Commonwealth, Continental Cup and African Steeplechase champion, Richard Mateelong, who won bronze in Beijing had his prized scalp claimed in the men 3000m steeple as he slumped to fifth in 8:14.00.
Beijing silver winner in the women steeple, Eunice Jepkorir, returned 10:13.28 for the wooden spoon as world leader in the corresponding race, while Paul Kipsiele Koech again succumbed to his chronic high altitude sickness in the men's race.
"I know I can perform if given the chance to run in Europe but despite feeling good for most part of the race, running in altitude cost me again," he lamented.
Beijing fourth finisher and Berlin World champion in 10,000m, Linet Masai was in the frame for selection in the 5000m until metres before the bell after dropping out of the longer race with stomach cramps last week but eventually faded to seventh in 16:23.75.
"My race is the 10,000m but today, I did not have the speed and I wish the girls all the best in London. I will work hard to ensure I will be around for the next one," a distraught Daegu bronze winner rued.
The team reports to camp on Sunday.
Mutwiri Mutuota (Capital FM) for the IAAF
800m David Rudisha 1:42.12 Job Kinyor 1:43.94 Timothy Kitum 1:43.96 Alfred Kirwa 1:44.61 Abraham Rotich 1:44.79